Santorum ignores shift

Several 2016 presidential campaigns are already up and running — some more quietly than others — and Republicans hoping to be their party’s nominee are preparing for a primary that could potentially bear little resemblance to those of 2012 and 2008. As the party grapples with a shifting electorate, it is divided over differences on gay marriage, immigration reform, national security policy and even guns — gaps that could only widen by 2015, when campaigns will be in full swing.

Potential candidates are busy searching for safe corners on these contentious issues and are either acknowledging the profound shifts, even when they haven’t changed their minds, or saying little until they have to — all of them, so far, except former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

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Santorum, of course, won the Iowa caucuses last year and nearly derailed Mitt Romney’s path to the GOP nomination before he started speaking out against the dangers of college education, free prenatal testing and contraception. Just this week he predicted that a “chastened” U.S. Supreme Court would not rule in favor of gay marriage and that the Republican Party was not going to change on the issue because doing so would be the end of the party. Yes, the end.

“The Republican Party’s not going to change on this issue. In my opinion it would be suicidal if it did,” Santorum told The Des Moines Register. The ex-lawmaker described new support for gay marriage as “popular” and “the fancy of the day,” but also considers it fleeting, as “not a well thought-out position by the American public.”

In the past Santorum has made clear he believes gay marriage is “antithetical” to healthy families. “Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that’s what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality,” he said in 2003.

Santorum told the Register on Monday he is considering another presidential run but hasn’t made any decisions. He will return to Iowa next week to speak to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, where he said he will address this topic. “One of the things I learned from the last four years is that when you go to Iowa, people pay attention to what you say,” he said in his interview. “That’s always a gift to any person in public life. We’re going to talk about the concerns I have.”

It is understandable that, as a religious Christian, Santorum is uncomfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage. Many Republicans who also want to be president feel exactly the same way. But they are not encouraging their fellow Republicans to alienate homosexual voters. Telling voters their opinions are wrong isn’t usually a winning campaign strategy. The strong majority support for gay marriage, even among Republicans, can be denied no more than the growth of the Latino population and the fact the President Obama won it 71 percent to 27 percent over Romney. They are stubborn electoral shifts, just like the fact that young voters and Asian Americans have recently turned away from the GOP in greater numbers, which any Republican hoping to win the White House in 2016 will have to contend with and accept.

There is a significant difference between a trend and an evolution. What Santorum views as a passing fad is likely to become the norm quite soon; young people support gay marriage by a margin of 4 to 1. More acceptance isn’t likely to give way to less over time, no matter how much chastening Santorum has in mind. 


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.